Review: blueLounge The Sanctuary
If you own an iPod, you already know that you don't need to make a separate purchase to recharge it: Apple includes a USB cable with every model, so assuming you have a computer -- or, for that matter, any other device with a spare USB port -- you have the ability to keep your iPod powered up. But many people don't want to keep their iPods tethered to their computers, which explains the continued popularity of iPod wall chargers: year after year, these $25-30 accessories remain amongst the most popular of all add-ons.
blueLounge is one of several companies that have taken the iPod wall charging concept to its next logical step, rightly suggesting that many people don’t want to clutter their power outlets and tabletops with multiple cables. The alternatives we’ve seen are multi-device docks that have a single power cable running to the wall, and a collection of more or less hidden cords that can connect to iPods and other devices that sit on top. The Sanctuary ($130) is blueLounge’s take on the genre, a 9.125” rounded square tray that is 1.875” high and packed with charging cables for various portable electronic devices. Other than its price, which is unquestionably crazy for what’s being offered, and a couple of smaller caveats, The Sanctuary is a very viable charging alternative for iPod and even iPhone owners.
To start with the positives, The Sanctuary follows in blueLounge’s tradition of clean, attractive industrial design, which first came to our attention three years ago with the excellent $5 cable manager cableyoyo. Like cableyoyo, the idea here is to hide charging cables away from plain view, which is accomplished in Sanctuary with two main pieces: you buy the unit with either a white or black plastic tray, each shipped with a reversible black and tan velvet cover. Inside the tray is a plastic charging console packed with 11 different cabled connectors and two ports, all mounted on top of a rubber base. You pick the cables for devices you want to charge, run them over to the tray’s sides, and connect an included wall power adapter through a hole in the tray’s back. Finally, you insert the velvet cover to mask what’s underneath, leaving only small charging tips above and visible. Depending on whether you want the cover to be flush with the tray’s surface or recessed, you can use the cover with or without an included soft foam insert.
Without any question, The Sanctuary’s design has clean looks and convenience on its side. blueLounge’s 11 connector heads include one iPod Dock Connector and 10 other tips that work with Sony, Nokia, and Samsung phones, as well as micro-USB, mini-USB and other devices; the company claims compatibility with over 1,500 products. And, as one would expect, you’re not limited to charging just one device at once; conceivably you could charge as many as 11 at a given time, as Sanctuary’s power supply runs up to a limit of 5.7 Volts of total charging capacity, and supplies 500mA of current to each connector. It’s obvious, however, that you won’t really be using all of the tips at once: you’d have to be seriously gadget-obsessed to simultaneously own and need recharging for all the different devices the separate tips support.
Therein lies one of The Sanctuary’s major conceptual failings: we’ve seen many universal charging devices before, and they invariably have followed a straightforward structure, with one cable and a bunch of different tips you can attach as necessary. Instead, blueLounge’s adapter has 11 cables, each with a tip permanently attached, and only one has an iPod Dock Connector. Consequently, if you don’t own Nokia, Samsung, LG, Sony Ericsson or Palm devices, seven of the cables won’t do anything for you. A smarter design might have provided you with fewer cables and more tips.
However, blueLounge is betting that Sanctuary buyers aren’t solely looking for an iPod charging station, and assuming that people will have more than one type of device on hand; it also includes cables with multi-device-friendly mini-USB, micro-USB, and generic device tips that work with a number of other devices, potentially including certain iPod and iPhone accessories. There’s also an empty USB port that lets you connect your own cable, so the iPod or iPhone’s packed-in cables be used as well. Through the dedicated iPod port, the open USB port, and the mini-USB port, you might be able to charge an iPod or iPhone and two accessories at once, or an iPod and iPhone with one accessory, but it’s unlikely that you’ll be able to do more than that.
There’s another little wrinkle for iPhone users. Though blueLounge claims that The Sanctuary is a Works with iPhone device, its instruction manual notes that it only supplies 500mA of electrical current to each connector—less than the 1 Amp the iPhone is supposed to receive from official Works with iPhone chargers. The extra current enables iPhones to charge faster than with unapproved devices, but then, The Sanctuary offers as much power as would virtually any computer’s USB port, so it’s not a huge concern. During a weekend of testing, we charged both iPods and an iPhone without any problem; consider this an issue only if juicing up your iPhone rapidly is a high priority.
Ultimately, The Sanctuary’s appeal is limited not by its looks, and little by its functionality; the issue is almost entirely its price. As familiar as we are with the inflated prices of iPod and iPhone accessories, none of our editors felt comfortable paying so much for a glorified power adapter, and we felt that the peak value of such an item would be roughly half blueLounge’s asking price. With wooden alternatives such as the Simply Put Charger Station now selling for under $40 and Griffin’s metallic PowerDocks arriving for $50-$70, charging $130 for a plastic charging tray strikes us as objectionably high—enough that the product’s rating suffered as a result. If you feel otherwise or find it at a substantial discount, you’ll find The Sanctuary nice-looking and functional enough to merit a place in your home, but in our view, a more reasonable price and a couple of internal tweaks would make it a much smarter purchase for iPod and iPhone users.